Costco vs Sam’s Club Full Comparison

Costco and Sam’s Club have been in business for many decades, and command loyal customer bases.

Costco recorded a revenue of US$166.76 billion in 2020 while Sam’s Club recorded a revenue of US$64 billion in the same year.  This means Costco’s revenue is more than twice that of Sam’s but this is understandable considering that they are present in more locations.

It will be a good idea to start with a general picture of the sizes of these warehouse club giants. Some facts and figures would show you how stable they are.

Locations

Both of these clubs are present in many locations although Costco has dominated in that sphere. Being present in more locations may not be a factor in service quality, but it shows how popular and known a company is.

Costco: 804 locations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, France, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States

Sam’s Club: 599 locations in Brazil, China, Mexico, United States  

From July to September of 2021 alone, Costco added 8 more locations to the above list, including in Japan, Australia, and the US. This is a fine example of Costco’s aggressive expansion which is a result of popular reception.

Membership

One of the main deciding factors between Costco vs Sam’s Club is their membership fees. Affordable membership fees are available at both establishments while the competition is fierce when it comes to membership benefits.

Here is a comparison of Costco vs Sam’s membership fees. We will go in alphabetical order, i.e. Costco and Sam’s to be neutral at this point.

Costco Membership Types

There’s also the Costco Business Membership priced at $60 per year, for those who purchase for resale. To get the membership, you must provide a valid ID card and a business license or resale certificate.

Membership TypeGold StarGold Star Executive
Annual RewardNo2% (up to $1000)
Benefits & DiscountsNoYes
Costco MagazineNoYes
Shop Costco.comYesYes
Includes 2 Member CardsYesYes
Cancel AnytimeYesYes
Become a Member$60/year$120/year
Source: Costco

Both Gold Star and Gold Star Executive members are eligible to obtain one free House Hold card in addition to the Primary Card. Here are Costco Member Privileges & Conditions and Terms and Conditions of Use.

Sam’s Club Membership Types

Membership TypeClubPlus
Earn Cash RewardsNo2% up to $500
Free ShippingNoYes
Early ShoppingNo8:00 am Mon-Sat
Instant SavingYesYes
Cash BackUp to $5,000/yearUp to $5,000/year
Discount GasYesYes
PrescriptionsNoUp to 30% off
Discount GlassesNo20% off
Free Tire RepairYesYes
Member Cards22
Add-on MembershipUp to 8Up to 16
Become a Member$45/year$100/year
Source: Sam’s Club

Payment Methods

Accepted at Costco

  • All Visa Cards
  • The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
  • Most PIN-based Debit/ATM Cards
  • Costco Shop Cards*
  • Cash
  • Personal checks from current Costco Members
  • Business checks from current Costco Business Members
  • Traveler’s checks
  • EBT cards
  • Mobile Payment (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay)

Accepted at Costco.com

  • All Visa Cards
  • The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
  • MasterCard
  • Discover Cards (Including JCB and Diners Club)
  • Most PIN-based Debit/ATM Cards
  • Costco Shop Cards*

Accepted at Costco Gas Stations

  • All Visa Cards
  • The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
  • Most PIN-based Debit/ATM Cards
  • Costco Shop Cards

Accepted at Sam’s Club

  • Sam’s Club Credit (PLCC)
  • Walmart and Sam’s Club Gift/e-Gift Cards
  • Debit Card
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Visa
  • Discover
  • SNAP/ EBT only for in-club purchases
  • Prepaid Credit Cards
  • Walmart Credit (PLCC)

Accepted at SamsClub.com

  • Sam’s Club Credit (PLCC)
  • Walmart and Sam’s Club Gift/e-Gift Cards
  • Digital Wallet Service –
  • Debit Card
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Visa
  • Prepaid Credit Cards
  • Sam’s Club Credit Direct Accounts must be registered as a new online account

Costco accepts digital wallets such as Samsung and Apple Play at their warehouses while Sam’s accepts them only for online transactions. But in terms of convenience of payment, Sam’s Club stands way above Costco. Sam’s Club has more choices including MasterCard and American Express.

Credit Cards

Both these warehouse giants have their branded credit cards with additional benefits. Again it’s a tight race to be the best between the two. Both of them offer a basic card and a higher tier card. Sam’s Club offers a $30 statement which you can use for Sam’s Club purchases within 30 days when you join the service.

How to Decide Between Costco Anywhere Visa Card and Sam’s Club MasterCard:

There are some advantages to each of the cards but they are almost negligible. However, although both cards pride themselves on being free of annual fees, Costco actually issues the card only if you have the paid membership whereas Sam’s Club doesn’t require the membership, and their card can be used as a membership too. This means Costco still has an expense to be borne by you if you need the credit card.

On the other hand, Costco lets you accumulate cash rewards without a limit whereas Sam’s Club only lets you have a balance of $2000 in cash rewards. Costco cash rewards have a limit of $5000.

Costco has also included “travel” which includes airfare and other elements in their Rewards program whereas Sam’s Club only has “dining and takeout” in their Rewards program.

 Costco Anywhere Visa CardSam’s Club MasterCard
TypesCostco Anywhere Visa® Card Costco Anywhere Visa® Business CardSam’s Club Credit Card Sam’s Club Mastercard
Annual FeeNo, but the paid membership is requiredNo
Rewards• Cash back 4% on eligible gas, for the first $7,000 spent per year. After that, 1% cash back.
• 3% for travel (at eligible establishments only) and restaurants.
• 2% when you buy from Costco and Costco.com
• 1% on all other purchases
• Cash back 5% on the first $6,000 spent per year. After that, 1% cash back.
• 3% cash back on dining and takeout
• 1% cash back on other purchases at Sam’s Club and wherever Mastercard is accepted
Bonus at sign upNo$30 redeemable at Sam’s warehouse or online store
Use as a membership cardNoYes
Cash Rewards limitsNo limit. But redemption mode may change after $10,000. Example: a check or electronic transferThe balance should stand at $2000 at which point accrual of Cash Rewards stops until the maximum balance is reduced. $5,000 maximum Cash Back per year.

Membership is required to obtaining the “free” Costco credit card, but their reward scheme stands ahead of Sam’s Club in terms of maximum retainable balance and the number of categories added for accumulating rewards points.

Return Policies

Coming with the promise of a “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” by each of them, this is another highly contested showdown for reputation between these two warehouse clubs.

Both establishments have decent return policies. However, Sam’s Club accepts mobile phones only within 14 days whereas Costco accepts them within 90 days unless a contract policy stands in the way.  

Apart from the items mentioned in the chart above, both merchants accept all other items for returns and refunds. But according to customer reviews, Costco is far more lenient in accepting returns.

Costco Return Policies

  • Electronics: Electronic items and appliances are accepted within 90 days. This includes items such as TVs, major appliances such as refrigerators, and electronic items such as computers, tabs, and cameras (pretty much anything in the category) including cellular phones (unless bound by a contract policy)
  • Alcohol & Cigarettes: According to their policy statement, they do not accept alcohol or cigarettes “where prohibited by law.”
  • Auto: Products with a limited life expectancy, such as batteries and tires would be sold with a product-specific warranty.
  • What cannot be returned: Special items such as personalized/customized products are not accepted except in the case of failure to meet item specifications.

Sam’s Club Return Policies

  • Electronics: Electronic items and appliances are accepted within 90 days. Cellular phones are accepted within 14 days.
  • Alcohol & Cigarettes: You are instructed to contact the relevant Sam’s Club branch to get alcohol and cigarette returns sorted out.
  • Auto: You are instructed to contact the relevant Sam’s Club branch to discuss returns of tires and batteries. Commercial heavy-duty items and motorsports items are accepted within 30 days.
  • What cannot be returned: No Returns on Personalized items, tickets, prescriptions, and items bought through wholesale programs cannot be returned.

Although on paper both clubs stand shoulder to shoulder, Costco wins on return policy thanks to their leniency. At Costco, you can return most of the items no questions asked, and they have no time restrictions for returns unless specifically mentioned.

Food

Costco and Sam’s Club offer you a lot more than what the closest grocery store offers. These two clubs have an extensive range of essential items as well as exotic items. It’s time to decide which one is better if the facts stand in favor of one.

Costco Food & Grocery

The major plus point is their private label Kirkland brand which has a reputation as value for money. They are promoting it as the cheaper but a high-quality substitute for the expensive brands.

Their meat selection includes local as well as exotic meats. You can even find Japanese Wagyu at Costco.

Costco also has a diverse collection of specialty ingredients including exotic ingredients such as saffron.

Costco is well stocked with organic and non-organic fresh produce. Some vegetables and fruits may not be available every day but generally, their produce section offers vegetables such as English cucumber, organic carrots, organic French beans, organic Brussels sprouts, etc. They have tropical fruits such as organic bananas and mangoes, and European fruits such as blueberries and raspberries.  

Sam’s Club Food & Grocery

Sam’s is not going to give in. They have equally impressive food and grocery sections that would fulfill most of your fresh produce requirements.

Although they don’t have Japanese Wagyu on their meet stall, they have the cheaper alternative American Wagyu. But their meat section is no less impressive than that of Costco’s.

Sam’s too is well stocked with fresh vegetables, sometimes better than Costco. They have an organic collection similar to Costco, and the variety is not bad either.

Price Comparison

If you are looking for a great variety of fresh vegetables then the best option is to go to a specialty store. But if you are shopping for the monthly food and grocery list, then either of these establishments would do. However, for more exotic items Costco is slightly ahead of Sam’s. Costco has the ordinary items as well as the more expensive end of the products too.

To get a general idea about how these two marketplaces do on pricing, here is a price comparison of a few selected items from their online stores as of the 4th of August 2021.

ItemCostco PriceSam’s Club Price
Extra virgin olive oil 2L$ 13.49 Kirkland Brand Delivery included if the bill exceeds $75$12.98 Bertolli Brand Delivery free for Plus Members. Others $5
Heinz Condiments Picnic Pack (4 pk.)$8.99 Delivered price$8.78 Delivery free for Plus Members. Others $5
Coffee Mate The Original Powdered Coffee Creamer (56 oz.)$7.39 Delivered price$5.98 (Min. order 2) Delivery free for Plus Members. Others $5

It’s also noteworthy that Sam’s website has spells of “too much traffic, please visit later” moments too. But Costco’s website has never returned traffic issues.

In terms of pricing, variety, and availability, the winner of this battle goes to Costco by a thin margin. Sam’s website traffic congestion makes the online shopping experience less pleasant at times, which does not stand in their favor in the competition.

Business Services

Both Costco and Sam’s are known for their wide range of business services. Their business centers offer business solutions and equipment for many sectors, and you will find that both are similar to a great extent.

Both Costco and Sam’s Club have dived deep into office equipment sales but when it comes to a wider range of services Costco stands slightly ahead of Sam’s. Although Sam’s is a wing of Walmart, taken as a single business establishment it’s behind Costco in terms of business services.

Costco has entered the service sector through their concierge service, Auto Program, Auto and Home Insurance, business services, photo services, Optical, and Travel services.

Costco Business Service

  • Costco Auto Program   
  • Restaurant Supplies and Janitorial Supplies
  • Mortgage: Purchase & Refinancing   
  • Costco Travel
  • Budget Truck Rental
  • Payment Processing
  • Business Phone Services
  • Checks, Forms & Accessories
  • Insurance Installed solutions such as Air Conditioning Systems, Window Treatments, Flooring, Generators, and Residential Solar Systems.

Sam’s Club Business Service

  • COVID Safety Solutions
  • Restaurant Supplies
  • Janitorial Supplies
  • Office
  • Tickets and travel
  • Commercial Paper Goods & Disposables
  • Vending & Concession
  • Bulk Foods & Case Sales
  • Auto & Tires
  • Computers
  • Tax & Finance Software

In this category, Costco wins by a thin margin. Costco provides all business solutions listed by Sam’s Club, and then some more. However, if you are planning to buy as a general shopper then both of these marketplaces stand shoulder to shoulder. It’s the corporate solutions that decided on our choice of winner.

Travel

Costco and Sam’s Club are vying for the supremacy in travel business too. Their services include hotels, tour packages, car rentals, hotels, and cruises to worldwide destinations. It’s time to compare what they have on offer.

Both establishments have their car rental services and other vacationing solutions. However, Costco has more expensive tour packages such as cruises to destinations, while Sam’s Club is more focused on sports and events. Both merchants have popular tours such as Disney World Tours in several different packages.

Costco Travel Services

  • Car Rental (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise)
  • Hotels
  • Cruises to destinations in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Mediterranean, Australasia, and more.
  • Theme Parks and Specialty
  • Guided Vacations

Sam’s Club Travel Services

  • Car Rental (Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar)
  • Hotels
  • Theme Parks & Attractions
  • Events, Shows & Sports
  • Water Parks
  • Movie Tickets
  • Preferred Access Tickets (sports, concerts etc.)

Costco is recommended for vacationing due to its wider global presence and tour packages, while Sam’s is recommended for sports and other events. We will call this a draw since both clubs excel at their respective main focuses.

Insurance

Insurance is one of the most profitable businesses in the current world. Being ambitious business giants, both Costco and Sam’s Club have entered the insurance market too.

Costco offers several types of insurance. Sam’s Club is only offering healthcare. Sam’s Club has occasionally mentioned that what they offer is a discount program rather than an insurance policy which is understandable by the fact that you still have to pay for your treatments, although with a discount.

Costco Insurance

They offer a comprehensive array of insurance policies that are required by a household.

  • Auto Insurance
  • Home & Condo Insurance
  • Renters Insurance
  • Umbrella Insurance
  • Specialty Insurance

Sam’s Club Insurance

Sam’s Club has extended its services to insurance as well. Their medical insurance is available for Business members with two or more employees. Sam’s Club focuses on small business owners who would bundle their insurance with their other deals with the company.

Sam’s insurance policies are offered in affiliation with Aetna, a company well known for its consumer-directed medical insurance policies.   

  • The insurance policies are categorized Standard and Premium which would cost $100 and $240 respectively. Each category offers free prescriptions on 5 to 20 generic medications, depending on the selected category.
  • They offer you unlimited tele-health through 98point6 at a fee of $1 per visit, and discounted dental care from Humana.
  • You would also get $60 for eye exams and 20% off eyewear at Sam’s Club.
  • The Premium Bundle, also called the Family Bundle would cover up to 6 members of the family. Eligible members of this category get access to health screening for early detection of heart disease and diabetes, from Quest Diagnostics.
  • Once registered, each category will get a prepaid health debit card valued at $40 and $100.

Sam’s Club also has a pet insurance and pet care package. They have partnered with Pets Best who offers the BestBenefit Accident and Illness plans for pets. Their accident plan, which compensates up to $10,000 a year in accident coverage, would cost you $9 a month. They also have a customized insurance policy with unlimited annual coverage. Both policies come with 24/7 vet support.

Related: Does Walmart offer pet insurance? (Price Table & Coverage)

If you need a comprehensive, standard insurance policy then Costco has a lot to offer. But if you intend to get some assistance in paying your employees’ medical bills then Sam’s Club would be a good choice.

Optical Center

Both companies have extensive product ranges that offer the members multiple choices and impressive discounts. Here are some examples of price comparison between Costco and Sam’s Club:

Lens Brand And ModelCostco PriceSam’s Club Price
1-DAY ACUVUE® MOIST 30-pack$21.87$21.88
AIR OPTIX NIGHT & DAY AQUA By Alcon (6 Lenses/Box)$65.88$65.88
Biofinity® XR toric 6-pack$110.99 (Buy 4 save $20)$140.00
Biofinity XR By CooperVision (6 Lenses/Box)$44.37 (Buy 4 save $20)$44.38
Proclear® 1 day multifocal 90-pack$75.16$75.17

The above chart shows the Costco and Sam’s Club prices of identical items. While Costco has priced their lens boxes 1 cent less than Sam’s, there’s the occasional bargain like the item priced at $110.99 and $140. Besides, some of the similarly priced items are available with a discount at Costco if you buy 4 packs at a time.

Costco Optical

Costco’s eye exam cost between $50-$100, and it comes with a frame and prescription lenses. Costco has its proprietary Kirkland brand lenses among the 18 lens brands available.

  • Kirkland Signature™ HD Digital Progressive Lenses
  • Bifocal Lenses
  • Single Vision Lenses

All Costco lenses include:

  • Polarized Lenses
  • Transitions® Photochromic Lenses
  • Blue Anti-Reflective Treatment and Anti-Reflective Treatment
  • Multi-functional Lens

In addition, they present a wide range of sunglasses from some of the most popular brands such as Maui Jim, Ray-Ban, Saint Laurent, and Oakley. Their own brand Kirkland is also among the other popular choices.

Costco sunglasses price range:

  • Costco sunglasses range from $25 to $200.
  • A pair of Kirkland Signature M42 Gunmetal Polarized Sunglasses would be the cheapest at $29.99.

Sam’s Club Optical

Sam’s Club eye exams also cost between $50 to $100. Here are some of the products from Sam’s Club Optical Center:

  • Contact solutions and eye drops
  • Prescription Glasses
  • Reading Glasses and Blue Light Glasses
  • Sunglasses and Frames
  • Contact lenses and Kids’ glasses

Sam’s Club Sunglasses Price Range:

  • Their cheapest is $19.99 while the highest end would go up to $250.
  • Reading glasses are priced from $19.88 to $21.99
  • Kids’ glasses start at $59

For optics, we have a clear winner that’s Costco. However, if you are just buying a lens pack occasionally, spending a membership fee to join Costco to save a cent will not be wise. But again, that membership fee of $60 will be negligible when you collect a few discounts from Costco.

Related:

Hearing Center

In terms of available services, both establishments stand abreast. While Costco has many reputed brands on offer, Sam’s Club has only two brands. Both clubs offer free testing and demonstration facilities. However, Costco offers free loss and damage coverage with no deductibles, which might be extremely useful for some buyers.

Costco Hearing Center

  • Remote services on some hearing aid models
  • Free product demonstrations
  • Free hearing tests (Test to determine if you could be helped by a hearing aid.)
  • Free follow up appointments
  • Free hearing aid cleanings and check-ups

In addition, they would provide free loss and damage coverage, and free warranty periods depending on the model. Costco Hearing Aids are:

  • Kirkland Signature 10.0 with Tcoil: $1,399.99
  • Jabra Enance Pro: Starting at: $1,799.99
  • Philips HearLink 9030: Starting at $1,799.99
  • BiCore C R-Li: Starting at: $1,799.99
  • (Each of above gadget bundles include two hearing aids and a charger)

Sam’s Club Hearing Center

  • Hearing evaluation (Audiogram) and Hearing aid evaluation
  • Hearing aid programming and/or adjustments
  • Follow-up care and support
  • Repair services
  • Annual follow-up tests

They also provide, if needed, referrals for medical treatment, and provide hearing-aid use and maintenance training. Sam’s Club Hearing Aids are:

  • Available Brands: Liberty Hearing Aids, Present
  • Present All-in-One Hearing Aids and Streaming Device: $999.98

Although both Costco and Sam’s score the same points for their services in general, Costco has two major reasons why they are ahead in the Hearing Services. They have more high-end brands and they offer insurance which is why we declare them the winner in this round.

Pharmacy

This is one department where you can purchase your items without a membership. But if you don’t have a membership you will be paying the regular prices, and there won’t be any savings. This is valid for both clubs.

Costco Pharmacy

  • Mail Order Pharmacy
  • Local Costco Pharmacy
  • Prescription medication
  • Mail order prescriptions
  • Auto refill programme
  • Warehouse pickup(from local club)
  • Prescription transfer
  • Pet medicine
  • Health & Wellness Clinic (Cancelled due to Covid19 pandemic)
  • COVID-19 immunization (Pfizer for the young aged 12-17, Moderna and J&J for adults)
  • Other vaccines

Sam’s Club Pharmacy

  • Prescription medications
  • Prescription transfer
  • Auto refill programme
  • Sam’s Club Prescription Delivery with DoorDash
  • Members get access to over 62,000 pharmacies nationwide.
  • COVID-19 vaccine
  • Other vaccines

Both clubs offer pretty much the same services when it comes to prescriptions. They allow transfer of prescriptions and auto refill prescription services too. The difference is the pricing of some items. While a flu shot is priced at 19.99 at Costco, it’s priced at 38.99 at Sam’s Club. Costco is the recommended pharmacy in this category.

Gas Station

Both gas stations have similar competitive prices. As an example, we have checked the prices of both clubs in Las Vegas NV, and found that the gas price of both Costco and Sam’s stood at around $3.49 in the Las Vegas Northwest area.

Costco’s brand Kirkland, further strengthened by Costco rewards, is a reliable alternative to other expensive brands in the market. Both clubs require their respective memberships to buy fuel with a few exceptions where they are legally required to sell fuel to anyone.

Costco Gas Station

  • Regular and ​​premium gas
  • Kirkland Signature Fuel Recognized by AAA for TOP TIER standards for engine cleanliness and performance
  • Kirkland Signature™ Diesel
  • Cash back rewards on gas for Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
  • Costco Car Wash Service: Available at locations in Arizona, California, Idaho, Tennessee, and Washington

Sam’s Club Fuel Station

  • Regular and Premium gas
  • Diesel
  • Car Wash Service: Available at 39 clubs

With the fuel prices staying competitively at the same level, it’s the rewards that would settle the dispute. While the Costco rewards are a good saver, in this case, Sam’s more convenient multiple payment methods are a definite winner. We declare this round in favor of Sam’s Club.

Tires & Auto

Both clubs have a firm hold on auto services and tires.

Costco Auto Center

  • Tires and Wheels
  • Car Electronics
  • Car, Truck & Recreational Batteries
  • Motor Oil
  • Auto & Truck Accessories and tools
  • Wash & Wax items

Sam’s Club Auto Center

  • Tires – general and specialty
  • Batteries
  • Motor oils, fluids, degreasers
  • Car electronics
  • Auto parts, accessories, and tools
  • Air compressors and accessories

Sam’s Club wins this bout without a doubt. Sam’s prices in this department are cheaper than that of Costco in almost every category. Buying lubricant oil from Sam’s would save $5 which is proportionately a huge saving from an item priced at $41.99 at Costco.

Verdict

Choosing between two colossal warehouse clubs that promise exceptional value for money is no simple task. Being two dominant retailers for decades in a constantly changing world in itself is a significant win for each of these clubs.

Who is Costco for: If you do not settle for the available substitute or are looking for a wider selection, then Costco is the better warehouse club out of these two. More brands and more shopping aisles are what Costco offers you. If you don’t mind paying a higher membership fee and having limited payment methods, then you will be happy shopping at Costco.

Who is Sam’s Club for Sam’s Club is for the customers who would like to buy what they need without having to navigate through a labyrinth of related items or brands. Sam’s Club is also for those who would like to pay with a card they already have, without having to possess one specific payment method.

Sam’s Club had an early lead with their low membership fees but Costco soon caught up with their slightly better reward system. From then onwards it was a race run shoulder to shoulder, with one briefly overtaking the other.

Costco has more brands in almost every category in their inventory which means the members have more choices. Kirkland, their own brand, is a good alternative when you need a slightly affordable item. Costco reward system has more useful features such as a higher accumulation limit which is more practical.

On the other hand, Sam’s Club is better in its pricing in the Auto and Battery departments. But in the Hearing Center, we saw that majority of the displayed brands are out of stock. But again, they have more payment methods including AmEx and MasterCard.

Considering everything we observed, Costco would win by a thin margin should a winner be declared.